“Design-in-use” involves a high degree of
creativity that in the best sense of the word
makes a user unpredictable. Design-in-use
requires an underdetermined approach to the
user that does not exclusively define use of the
artifact. Through design decisions of material
choices, flexible structures, support for sharing,
and simplicity, a space can be created for users
to evolve new uses not conceived of by the
designers. The creativity of the user establishes
the foundation (not the challenge) for interaction
design; unpredictability is reframed as a positive
attribute of the user rather than an obstacle to
Design artifacts become resources for further
creativity as an outcome of design-in-use.
Artifacts will be used in ways that transcend their
intended use. The simplest of products, which can
easily be reused, work well in everyday design.
This principle asks that professional designers
design artifacts so they are open to and even invite
uses that were not included in the original design.
For example, in the digital-artifact equivalent
of paper, rather than consider it a medium that
supports written text and drawings, designers can
design toward an action space that invites rolling,
folding, marking, ripping, making holes, gluing
together, etc. Electronic products in particular
require greater and simpler actionable attributes
in order to be redesigned, rather than the current
proliferation of highly targeted “features” designed
to address predetermined needs.
Design-in-use qualities emerge over time.
Design artifacts exist in an evolutionary and
complex environment. The value and use of
artifacts change over time as they are combined
into systems with other artifacts, renewed through
discovery of new uses, or as situations or needs
change. Recognizing that qualities emerge over
time requires us to consider more than just the
explicit usefulness of an artifact, that is, to include
more passive usefulness and unintended uses.
Designers might consider identifying states and
transitions of artifacts in order to better understand
priated design artifacts like
the top of the fridge together
with other horizontal surfaces
for new uses. The intent for
the “microwaveless shelf” is
to store dish towels, mail, or
notes. During this particular
session it was stuffed full of
items—from a maple sugar
house to dental floss to a can
of wood stain (see Figure 1).
The top of the fridge was a
place to keep other valued
things, like a wicker box full
of important papers. Other
items saved for one reason or
another include a 20-year-old
Sony Walkman that Beck plans
to sell one day on eBay, a lottery ticket redeemable for $8,
and a clock. The remaining
items are on top of the fridge to
keep them out of reach of the
children: a steel mixing bowl
that had become a noisemaker
(especially during our visits!)
and a small guitar over which
the boys fought.
The issue at hand during our
visit was the migratory items,
like the breast pump or sailing
gear, that, much to Beck and
Kerry’s chagrin, found their
way on top of the fridge, adding
to the ever growing, unmanageable pile. The everyday designers in Beck and Kerry discussed
how ideally, transitory objects
on their way in or out of the
house would be temporarily
placed on the third surface,
the small table in the hallway.
However, some objects are better kept on top of the fridge,
away from the children, like
the sailing gear. Moreover, the
hallway that leads to the front
door had become what we refer
to as a “crash pad,” the resting
point for innumerable things
making their “landing” upon
entry in the house—Beck’s bass
guitar and case, toys, strollers,
jackets with backpacks still
attached to them, and other
items unceremoniously dumped
upon arrival at home. The
small table stood barely accessible among all the debris.
Acting on their intentions for
the spaces, Beck had recently
cleaned the top of the fridge
to see what really needed to
be kept there and what space
could be freed up (see Figure
2), hence his query about
the breast pump. Kerry later
went through the objects on
September + October 2009
• Figure 1. Kerry and Beck’s “
microwaveless shelf” overflowing with items.
• Figure 2. The top of the fridge after
being organized and cleaned by Beck.
• Figure 3. The redesigned “
microwaveless shelf”; a picture and frame are
displayed to prevent piles of meaningless objects from forming.
• Figure 4. The overlooked appropriation of a chair to hang a jacket.